Editorial: Offshore Oil Drilling Fixes Nothing

This story was written by Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan


The possibility of offshore drilling has become increasingly popular as gas prices continue to burden American drivers. However, given the evidence, a recent proposal floated by Republicans is seriously flawed, to say the least. Just as removing a bucket of water from a lake does little to bring down its level, offshore drilling appears thoroughly unable to have a significant effect on oil prices.

Only one day after Sen. John McCain spoke out in favor of initiating offshore oil drilling, President Bush called on Congress to terminate the laws that currently prevent it. Offshore drilling has been banned throughout most coastal waters since 1981 - a legislative measure intended to decrease pollution and protect oceanic wildlife. The president's attempt to lift the ban is characteristic of his stance on domestic energy production; he has often argued that the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska should be opened to oil drilling. Though wildlife reserves probably won't facilitate oil production anytime soon, sky-high gas prices have chipped away at America's long-standing determination to protect its coastal waters. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that any such drilling could have the same success chipping away at high gasoline prices.

Perhaps in an attempt to complement his proposal for a gas-tax holiday, McCain surprised many when he called for the drilling ban to be lifted; the presumptive Republican nominee has simultaneously been pushing himself as the candidate of environmental reform. Of course, these recent efforts would seem to blatantly contradict one another, as the risk of an oil spill poses a serious threat to aquatic life. However, ridiculous as it may sound, the important question at this time is not whether the plan is likely to harm the environment, nor does it deal with any political motives that may or may not underscore McCain's recent proposal. Rather, a crucial and somewhat obvious question must be answered before this debate can even begin: Would offshore drilling actually help to lower gas prices? In the end, the economic arguments against the proposal seem to trump any and all political ones in its favor.

One point in the argument against offshore drilling is indisputable: Even if the project began today, it would be at least several years before the new refineries could affect the oil market. While the plan's initiation might restore some consumer confidence, gas prices would likely not fall anytime soon. In fact, it is not clear that oil prices would ever fall by a significant amount as a result of the drilling. After all, it is not oil's availability but rather its profits that concern domestic oil companies, and Americans are not the only ones with a strong appetite for fossil fuels. That is, while the United States is the world's largest oil consumer, its overall demand for fuel is rather small in comparison with the international oil market as a whole. For that reason, oil prices are determined according to international demand - each barrel auctioned off to the highest bidder, regardless of which country that might be. Moreover, the amount of oil that could be drilled in these offshore locations is miniscule compared with the quantities of oil that are produced worldwide. The combination of these facts suggests that any offshore drilling would do little to lower oil prices, either now or in the long term.

The request for Congress to lift the ban on offshore drilling must be answered with an unequivocal no. The stakes are too high for political faades to continue standing in place of progressive economic solutions. Of course, this argument is one that will surely be issued from both sides, but considering the lack of evidence in support of the drilling, it seems poorly suited for those with their eyes on coastal waters.
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